The big challenge

I grew up hardly thinking about feminism and gender equality. That debate took place before my time, it seemed.

During high school, girls could take the same courses as boys, and they got at least the same grades, often better. Then, as an apprentice and later at university, it was the same – loads of women attending the lectures on micro- and macroeconomics, a lot of them on top of their classes. They all got good jobs – it was the mid-1990s when we finished, the economy was doing fine all over Western Europe.

When I got my first well-paid position, the story continued – there were about as many women as men among the new recruits at Roland Berger, and also later at Financial Times Deutschland, there was pretty much a gender balance among editors and staff writers. Once you went up the hierarchy, women were scarcer, though.

So, all these years, I experienced that men and women have the same rights and that they can achieve the same if they want to.

This believe drastically changed when I got kids.

It might be a “German reality” much more than it is a Belgian, US-American or Argentine one. That is because until a few years ago (and still nowadays in a lot of cities in Western Germany), finding a day-care for your one-year-old is not easy. Finding one, that is open until 6 or 6:30 in the evening is close to impossible. And how about a creche for a six-month-old baby – forget about it. Germans are still doing quite well financially that the pressure for both parents to go back to work full time right after birth is less heavy than in Chicago or New York. And as Europeans usually run their own households, both husband and wife working AND doing the cleaning, washing, shopping and cooking is very often more than a lot of couples and new-born parents can deal with. In the developing world such as Latin America, professionals have the luxury of much more support at home – a “muchacha” who prepares your dinner, some guy who washes your car, a person with a power-drill and a bag of tools who fixes your broken sink for a few dollars, instead of you spending precious time on DIY during the weekend.

The special German character of this situation gets even more pronounced once children start school – as up until today, a lot of German primaries and even secondary schools finish at mid-day. And classes are usually designed so that students do a substantial part of the understanding and learning outside the classroom. In such a set-up, it comes in very handy for the student to have the support of a well-educated person in the afternoon – either in some after-school institution (those are, again, not always easy to find) or at home. In the latter case, another task for mom or dad.

When I consider all the men and women whom I studied and worked with in the past and who got children some time along the way, most of the men work full-time, while most of the women are employed part-time. The “moms” are occupied more than part-time, though – as in most cases they have assumed the main responsibilities of raising the kids and running the home.

So, on paper, men and women, fathers and mothers have the same rights and are considered equal. Reality shows, however, that even with the same education and similar capabilities, moms and dads very often take on different roles and subsequently have different careers and reach different earning potentials. One of the main challenges of nowadays families is for parents to find the roles that suit them and for couples to negotiate along mom’s and dad’s expectations, desires and necessities. After more than 30 years without them, I am finally leading my very own debates on feminism and gender equality.

4 thoughts on “The big challenge

  1. Why is “THE ONE AND ONLY GOAL IS HIGHER EARNING POTENTIAL!!!!!!!!one!!!!” Really the only thing your doing is framing what men do as better. If we frame the exact same situation differently it looks very different. Many women, having the luxuries of choice, choose to spend time doing what they love with the people they love. Men do not have this luxury. Women have the options of work full time or Work part time/Play with kids part time or play with kids full time. Mens options are work full time or work full time or work full time. Are you really going to complain about how sexist against women it is for women to have more meaningful life choices for them to pursue happiness?

    1. I do not say that “the one and only goal is higher earning potential”, and I also did not mean it. There are countries where also men have the option to work part-time, the Netherlands for example. There, you usually have a more equitable split of household and childcare chores. I am describing the reality in most of the countries I know from first-hand experience, and the effect that becoming a parent has on your professional career. And from my experience, for a lot of men they just continue like they did before they had kids, while for the majority of women, it does have a serious impact. I have not been talking “meaningful life choices” and “happiness”. And regarding this, every person has to decide what makes him or her happy – for some it might be to stay at home with the kids, for others to work part-time and dedicate the remaining time to their children, again for another group it might be to follow his or her career full-time and delegate child care to someone else, etc. That might be the subject of another post…

      1. So because restrictive gender roles for males prevent men from changing their career trajectories when they have children…..this is oppression of women? Because men have no options in most countries other than work full time or work full time or work full time, this restriction on men is fear or hatred of women?

        I know you where not talking about meaningful life choices. That was the problem. Power, real power is not spending your life chained to a desk earning money for someone else to enjoy. Real power is having meaningful life choices. Slavery is “higher earning potential” at the cost of any real choice in your life.

  2. Unfortunately one cannot simply say “Women have the choice” – because if they opt for working part-time and taking care of the kids and then the marriage breaks up at a later stage, they will pay the prize. They earned less points for their pension, they will have problems to find a job that will fully support them – and she might end up living from social welfare because the duties of the husband to support her after a divorce are very limited after a number of legal reforms. So “the choice” to be a stay-at-home mommy carries big risks nowadays. Which might be one of the reasons why so many women wait longer and longer to have children. By the way: 63 percent of the people in West Germany still think that it will harm a small child if the mother is working!

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